Expensive Practice Fairy Tales:
Once Upon a Time There Was a Helper …
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Some days you just feel like those dreams you had of a wonderful, rewarding career have given way to something far different—definitely not the “happily ever after” that you once envisioned. The reality is that this is work, the grind, and some days it’s just not fun. Stuff goes wrong, people call in sick. You’re short-staffed. Everyone is stressed. This is not what you signed on for.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just hire another person—a helper—who could step in when needed? Why, this person could help answer the phones, help clean treatment rooms, help scrub instruments, and help file records and documents! Everyone could get so much more done and it would sure be less stressful at times. No more scrambling to cover the bases. No more stressful days. A helper is the answer, or so you think.
“Helpers” are often viewed as some sort of special being, like fairy godmothers. Dental teams craft delightful little fantasies based on the seemingly abundant possibilities that helpers have to offer. They are often the subject of wonderful dreams about greater efficiency and less stress; just throw more people into the mix and that will ease all the worries and concerns of the dental office world. The possibilities are only as limited as the team’s imagination and the doctor’s bottomless bank account. I hear it all the time: “Oh, but Sally, we just know we will be so much more efficient with another person; the position will surely pay for itself.” Of course it will, and you’ll be spinning gold from straw, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good fairy tale as much as the next person and I am definitely all for ensuring that your practices are adequately staffed. Unfortunately, however, many of you base your belief that you need additional help on some flight of fancy about creating a workplace utopia in which there are no stressful days or strained situations—because you have plenty of people on staff. They will all do the right things at the right times to make sure that everything works out juuust right.
But before you leap with checkbook wide open and start your search for the perfect little helper, I suggest you consult with reality, even if only briefly. Look at wages paid in your practice, including the hygienist’s (but excluding the doctor’s). They should be no more than 20% of gross income, not including payroll taxes and benefits. If the current gross salary expense is around 22%, you’re already over the tipping point. Adding another person could increase gross wages to 27%. Where are you going to get that extra 5% or 7%? Are any staff members volunteering to take a pay cut? Doctor, how ‘bout you?
Unless the practice has a goose with connections to the gold market, you need a plan. You want more than a “helper.” You want a producer. For example, if that helper is a Patient Coordinator who will increase practice revenues by making sure appointments are kept, that enchanted new face in the office can increase practice production—the pixie dust of a happy team. Or if the individual is a hygienist who will enable the practice to meet the demands of a growing hygiene schedule (provided it’s not riddled with no-shows and cancellations), the investment is a wise one.
The negative financial impact should only last for about 60 days. Beyond that, production should increase, and the wage percentage of gross income should return to the normal range of 19% to 22%.
In addition, create a “producer mentality” among the team. If tasks aren’t getting done and the team is stressed, it’s possible you have certain employees with the “it’s not my job” attitude. Everyone must understand the bigger picture. What is the practice in business to do? What is the mission? What are the practice goals? What is each employee’s objective? When everybody clearly understands the mission and goals of the practice and realize that they are expected to do what is necessary to achieve those goals, they are more likely to step in when it’s crunch time.
Next week: Can you really afford to add staff?
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